Paul Short has always had an active interest in flying.
But in June this year rather than piloting drones in the region’s airspace, it was in the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter as the crew flew him to Hamilton after a skateboarding accident left him clinging to his life.
Rex Short received a phone call that his 19-year-old son Paul had been in an accident. Concerned, he travelled to the hospital and waited for his son to arrive, but after the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter flew overhead, he realised things might be more serious.
“When he didn’t turn up at the hospital, we headed to Inglewood High School where they said the accident had happened and arrived to see two ambulances on site and Paul on a ventilator,” recalled Rex.
Paul had fallen off his modified skateboard at high speed and suffered significant head injury.
“On examination, it was clear that Paul had sustained a serious life-threatening Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI),” said Rescue Helicopter Intensive Care Paramedic Heath Gillot.
Traumatic injuries such as Paul’s are a leading cause of disability and death in New Zealand with a poor outcome in most of these cases.
“The St John Ambulance crew had done an excellent job of treating Paul’s injuries and stabilizing his condition. Being in such a critical state it was clear that further specialist intervention at Waikato Hospital was imminently needed.”
“We loaded Paul into the rescue helicopter and secured him while allowing the family to say their goodbyes, for what we felt might be their last time together. We started up and began the flight to Hamilton with the pilot and crewman having to navigate some difficult weather along the way,” explained Heath.
Paul remained sedated on infusions and mechanically ventilated throughout the journey, in a stable, but critical condition. On the ground the Short family followed their son to the Waikato.
“We chased the chopper all the way to Hamilton and by the time we arrived at 10.30pm he had been admitted to the intensive care unit and the brain surgeon on duty filled us in on the procedure, but even he was unsure of what might happen,” said Rex.
“Those first few days were particularly tough. It took four days until we felt the first squeeze of a hand and then he woke at the third attempt of trying.”
Miraculously, Paul recovered fast despite having cracks in his skull and bruising on his frontal lobe. Doctors were able to monitor Paul’s brain function in real time thanks to new “brain bolt” technology placed inside his skull – continuously measuring oxygen, nutrients and the pressure in the skull – instead of doctors waiting for CT scans every 48 hours.
Paul spent two weeks between ICU and the neurosurgical ward at Waikato Hospital before his continued rapid recovery took him to ABI Rehabilitation in Henderson, West Auckland.
A month after the accident and back flying drones, Paul’s recovery has been miraculous, all the more when you factor in Heath’s assessment of the situation following his transfer to Waikato Hospital.
“Once we had handed over [at Waikato Hospital], we walked out the ED knowing that we had all done the very best we could providing the best possible chances, but still with that gut-wrenching feeling that this poor guy was in a bad way and most likely would not survive his injuries.
“I was completely shocked when a few weeks later the crewman turned to me and said, ‘mate you’ll never believe who I just spoke to on the phone’!”
Paul has no recollection of the accident that has changed his life forever.
“I’ve had to piece together what happened from different sources. What I do know is that without the quick actions of people that day I wouldn’t be here to test my newfound bad memory,” says Paul.
“In a way I feel my recovery has been too easy for the seriousness of the accident,” says Paul, who puts it down to the people that have helped him and his family along the way. The Short family has received overwhelming support from the community in Inglewood and Waitara.
“We’re a faith-based family and the support we have received through the church not only in Taranaki but further afield has been amazing,” says Rex.
“Everything from people vacating their home in Henderson to allow us to stay in Auckland, to someone just looking after the family dog when we up and left.”
With Paul being an active member of the North Taranaki community it’s hardly surprising the community has stood by him.
The Inglewood teenager launched his own business five years ago at the tender age of 14, building and selling remote-controlled drones and has helped on numerous local projects including the oil and gas fields.
Through his drone flying requirements over the years he has been in regular communication with the hangar to ensure the air space was safe to fly in.
“Of all the organisations I’ve had to work with through flying drones over the years Taranaki has been the easiest,” says Paul who continues his recovery at home in Inglewood.
“It’s pretty unusual for the first bone you’ve broken to be your skull,” quips Paul, “it’s definitely changed the way I see risk. The truth is I had been on the skateboard at high speeds a number of times in the past, so the risk was always there.
I’m adjusting to my new situation and had to put a lot of hobbies I enjoy like snowboarding on hold.”
He is back flying his drones privately with a view to returning to his business Go Drone in the future but now has a different outlook on life.